Meditation isn’t just for devoted yogis anymore. Recent studies have proven that it actually changes the brain and can be effective at treating a host of issues, including depression, anxiety and stress. A new anthology, The Healing Power of Meditation, brings together a variety of leaders from all sides of the meditation world — pioneering Tibetan Buddhist teachers, scientific researchers and health professionals — to present their perspectives on how meditation impacts the body and the brain.
If you’ve been wanting to try meditation but don’t know where to start, Buddhist leader Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche offers a simple, non-intimidating way to begin in this excerpt from the book. —BBL Editor
The first meditation technique from which everyone could benefit is to allow yourself to be still for a long time. If possible, start with at least fifteen minutes. Anything shorter than that would be just an experiment that might give you a quick fix, but as they say, there is no shortcut to realizing your own fundamental nature. And you have to have the humility to recognize that you are actually reversing the current. In my case, let’s say it is forty-two years of action-engaged body versus fifteen minutes of stillness. Which one is going to win? Which one will I be more familiar with? You need to know what your habit is, and what you are reversing. Each day try to find stillness. Sit still. There is nothing Buddhist, meditative, or spiritual about it. You are just allowing your body, which contains a powerful mind, to be given some rejuvenation time, some respite. You are giving yourself some spaciousness to sit and, in that stillness, to discover the incredibly vivid and vibrant quality of the mind.
This discovery comes in the form of the stillness being intertwined with silence—silence of the verbal speech as well as silence of the mental chatter that is happening all the time. Having disciplined yourself to sit quietly, first cut down on verbal speech and then cut down on mental chatter. Tell yourself, “I do deserve fifteen minutes of peace and quiet. I do deserve a moment when I can relax into not having to think of something fantastic, into not having to articulate and have opinions and judgments.” If you are still not sure, I like to remind meditators that after these fifteen minutes, things will still be the same. You can continue; nothing will have changed. So without the fear that something drastic is going to happen, give yourself the time to sit quietly in physical stillness and verbal silence.
Through the habit and familiarity with this mental, verbal, and physical quietude, you will realize the state called non-thought. Non-thought means not following, not grasping, and remaining quite detached. Allow the splendor of the activity happening around you, but just be by yourself, within yourself, at that moment. Through the stillness and silence, create a state of watching the enormous display of every activity your senses provide, while at the same time remaining detached from formulating opinions and judgments about it.
When silence, stillness, and non-thought become a foundation you build within yourself, it opens the gateway to the very acute, direct understanding of what we call looking at the inner mind, or working with one’s deeper inherent nature. Until then the deeper inherent nature continues to be like clouds and mists, and we do not seem to have the time to clear them and find out more, because we are so used to shortcuts, quick fixes, and quick results. We have a tremendous volume of opinions, ideas, and judgments, and then we insist that everybody should agree with them, and wonder why nobody is actually able to understand my problems. Suffering ensues from that.
Even though numerous philosophies and different world religions have tried to speak about this deeper inherent nature in different ways, it cannot be understood until we have a direct conviction of it. No multitude of philosophies is going to convince us to the degree where we would be willing to break free of our habitual ways of thinking until we gain a direct conviction ourselves. That conviction rests on experience, and experience cannot arise until you try it out for yourself.
This trying out is called the art of contemplation. Start with silence and stillness, and giving yourself a break for fifteen minutes each day. Whatever happens after you do this will become your own individual journey. If you stubbornly insist that your concepts are right and should be accepted, then welcome to the most complex philosophy in the world, Buddhist meditation. But if you really recognize that everything is dependent on the perception you have and how it unfolds, if you recognize your unique responsibility for how you engage in the perceptions you produce, then it becomes very simple and that is how the Buddha taught. For this reason we say that liberation is in your own hands, dependent entirely on how you look at it. You can look at it in a positive way or you can look at it in a very complicated way. It is entirely an individual choice, which has to be respected, and that is what has led to the complexities of today’s philosophical teachings.
From The Healing Power of Meditation by Andy Fraser, © 2013 by The Tertön Sogyal Trust. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, MA. www.shambhala.com